This time that I have spent self (un) employed – has been a time of healing, a time of self-evaluation and a time to ponder some of life’s deeper meanings. I currently “house-share” with my first ex-husband. Saying this situation is good would be an over statement. Saying it is awful would be wrong too. Like most things in life, it’s somewhere in between and complicated. (Let’s face it – how many of us have the chance to re-examine why we divorced someone – and feel justified more than 15 years later?) But today, the kids are off to their respective schools, the kitchen has been surface swept and the cat is sunning herself on the back steps. It’s my time to grab the laptop and attend to my email messages, update my websites, blogs and Facebook. Time to check the weather and mentally adjusted the laundry needs for tomorrow. It’s also time to turn on the television and catch up on the news and settle into… the daytime talk shows.
The daytime personality that has really resonated with me is Bonnie Hunt. There are some obvious reasons for this. We are of a similar generation, (She experienced Pong.), and her show is new so I found myself really rooting for her. (You go girl! 40ish is NOT the slow down time.) Her humorous self-deprecation is endearing. While she has no children of her own and I have four, her interaction with the children on her show will make me laugh out loud and has made Bonnie Hunt Show (BHS) summer devotees of my younger kids. My 11 year old, Claire, actually sent a video to the show about her Invention Convention entry and, in her absolute conviction that she WOULD be on the BHS, began planning our trip to Los Angeles over spring break. (Bonnie – she must have missed your call…but we’ll talk later.)
Whoever thought to have frequent video chats with Bonnie’s mom is either brilliant or sadistic. Not sure that I want my mom, at 68, addressing the nation with her thoughts on current events, my love life or whatever is crossing her frontal lobe that day. My mom once decided to have “the talk” with my sister, brother and me – en masse. Being a mom now, I can almost relate her get-it-over-with actions but I remember thinking, for years, that I missed the point of the story about "peanuts" and "China". (I didn’t connect those dots until WAY later in life.) Now it makes for a great sibling gathering laugh but Mom denies it to this day. Maybe if we had Skype or even video phones back then, I could have avoided a few years of therapy.
Anyway, Bonnie’s birthday was celebrated on her show a few weeks ago. That day, the video feed appeared with Bonnie’s mom wearing a flashing lighted, boa embellished sombrero holding a birthday cake complete with a lit candle that was perilously close to the boa aspect of the sombrero. It was too funny. But then she, Alice, did something that had the effect of a huge, emotional vacuum cleaner -pulling me back to my childhood. She began singing the song You Are My Sunshine. In my head – her voice was replaced by the rich baritone voice of my father.
As I listened, I tried to regroup and focus on the comedy happening on the television. I couldn’t. I was going back in time but finding that I didn’t really mind. I began to tear up and finally cry outright. Glad I was alone. There are not many times in the life of a single mother when you are “allowed” to cry. Any hint of tears on my part and my kids assume the worst. The person that keeps all of the balls in the air needs to drop a few of them - to get a tissue. Single moms must always be in control or at least give the appearance of being in control. You especially can’t cry about something as simplistic as a few lines of a song… nor a potentially flaming sombrero.
But why did this particular song cause me to cry? All of my kids were holding steady for the moment and I was not PMS-ing. Part of me attributes my reaction to the time of year. October was nearing. The song and the season brought me back to October of 1998.
One early 1998 July morning in Syracuse, NY I gave birth to my third child – a perfect little girl. My first call was to my dad. He and my stepmother lived a little over 2 hours away. My stepmom tells the story of Dad hanging up the phone, finishing up his morning cup of Lapsing Soochong tea with honey and putting his mug in the dishwasher. When she asked him of his plans for the day he said, “I think I’m going to Syracuse today.” He was holding Claire, his 7th grandchild, by noon.
And then it was October. Dad called and said he want to come see the baby. Perfect. We would have a nice afternoon – just the three of us. Claire was asleep when he got there but he gently scooped her out of her bassinet and cradled her on his lap, facing him, so he could “watch her sleep”. As she slept, my dad quietly told me about his recent surgery.
Dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer. A biopsy showed that it was in his lymph nodes. In plain language he told me of his treatment plan that included chemotherapy after the New Year. His agenda was to visit with my sister, brother and me, in each of our homes with our families, over the holidays. He did not want us involved in his chemotherapy. In retrospect, on that day in October, Dad seemed to want to impart some things to me. Not big things but odd little things like how he carefully washed his glasses, (I had recently had to wear glasses more routinely.), and how to make the perfect “Philadelphia hoagie” as we were assembling sandwiches for lunch. I have come to think of these as comfort things.
Before he left that day in October, we moved to sit on the front porch. Dad sat on a rocker holding the now wide awake Claire – facing him. We were talked out and were happy to have her hold center stage with her cooing and wide-eyed facial expressions. At some point she began to fade, rubbed her little face against Dad’s shirt front and “ginched”. (“Ginching” was squirming in Dad language.) Softly he began singing You Are My Sunshine. She rested her ear on his chest, comforted by the deep vibration, and dosed off. I knew how she felt.
Though it was a song from another generation, it was symbolic of every part of my childhood. Dad would launch into his boisterous version when we tromped through the woods on a camping trip, his soothing version while in the emergency room when I broke my collarbone, his mournful version he drove us back from an extended summer visit with him or, as he was doing now with Claire, his restful version that had sent my siblings and I off to sleep many times. When Dad sang that song, everything was okay.
I can still hear his voice in his pre-Christmas message on my answering machine, explaining that he was really worn out from his previous travels and promised to come to my home right after Christmas. Good. I wanted him to rest. I wanted him well. Sadly – he was not able to make it to my home for his holiday visit before succumbing to a fatal drug interaction on Christmas Eve. Dad died on December 28th in 1998. He was 59. He was surrounded by all of us. I like to think that one of us sang You Are My Sunshine to him at some point during those three days.
Today I had Bonnie Hunt’s mother singing You Are My Sunshine wearing a nearly flaming, birthday sombrero causing me to cry the cry of sadness and loss, of regret that my youngest children, (one born after Dad died), will not know my Dad and that my older kids will not benefit from his wisdom. But it is also the cry of release and of gratitude that a simple song can prove that I remember him so well. Today I have that October 1998 visit back to help comfort and steady me. Today, in the time it took for Bonnie’s mom to sing a few lines of You Are My Sunshine – everything was okay.
Wonder if Alice knows Skiddamarinkydinkidink? That was the song that always followed the Happy Birthday song in our family. Dad thoroughly enjoyed singing that song too – especially during the teenage cringe-and-dive-under-the-table years.